Friday, April 19, 2013

Anonymity: The Syndrome of Communicating More Only to Communicate Less

Recently, I had a great conversation with good friend David Honigsberg as we sat in a Starbucks in Toronto, chugging back some coffee and watching the world go by. Most people walked with iPhones or similar devices glued to their hands; talking, texting or simply holding their precious cargo like it meant the world to them. They’d be checking emails, updating their Facebook page, talking with a friend, and surfing a favorite site.

I know…I used to do the same thing. Until I gave
mine away.

After a whole suite of people had passed—virtually everyone clutching their link to the world—David
and I turned to each other in synchronicity. I thought he was going to remark on humanity’s co-dependency with technology or our obsession with connecting, even if only superficially, with the world. But he opened a topic that had nothing to do with it; or did it?

He brought up the topic of anonymity. He’d recently written to the National Post, a paper he esteems and highly respects, about their apparent promotion of anonymous letters to the editor in the online version of the newspaper vs. the print version, which requires a name and corresponding contact information. Here’s his letter:

This brings up an interesting point about where we—and our news media—are headed. With virtually all communications going digital, individual and online (from books to news to movies), it is interesting to note how differently we treat the online, more easily accessed, cousins to the print versions.

Let me give you an example: I published my first ebook with Liquid Silver in 2005 (when ebooks
David Honigsberg
weren’t that popular yet; the iPhone hadn’t made its debut and the ebook industry was in a chaotic mess re formats and devices). While “Collision with Paradise” (now re-issued with eXtasy Books under Kate Wylde) was a hit with its few readers and was praised by Romantic Times and Yet Another Book Review, it hadn’t sold more than a thousand copies. Ebooks now outsell their print cousins 3:1 with sales in the hundreds of thousands for any given title.

Over the years I have observed a great difference in quality between ebooks and their harder-to-get-published print books. And I know the reason…

The easier something is to do or get, the less it will be valued; the easier it is to communicate, the less likely it will have deep meaning. Take the easy road, the slippery path, and you are sure to miss the view. And isn’t that the very reason you were journeying in the first place?

Are we sacrificing the quality of our journey to reach our destination, forgetting that the journey—living with meaning—is ‘part of that destination’?

Texting every ten minutes. Updating your Twitter every hour. Checking your Facebook page every few hours. Does that mean you are communicating more?

I used to talk to a good friend almost every day. The chats used to happen randomly but when we both had time to talk. We shared meaningful things, what was important to each other’s life. We gave each other the gift of time, compassion and understanding. Then as time passed, those calls became more routine and more rigidly timed; while they occurred perhaps more often, the calls became shorter and shorter, until soon nothing of meaning could be shared.

What does that have to do with anonymity? Everything.

When we do not cherish, preserve, and protect meaningful communication, we give away our freedom to be the individuals we are. We throw away our true gifts to the world. We turn into an anonymous society of avatar-wannabes with no genuine identity; texting, chatting, surfing an undifferentiated sea of information pixels.

If we do not say, “Here I am! This is what I believe!” those very beliefs will eventually be taken from us. If it’s too easy, it won’t be valued; if it isn’t valued, it will soon disappear altogether.

Anonymity is not the enabler of freedom of speech; it is its harbinger of death.

Stand up and be counted. Or you will lose your most precious thing: YOU. 

Nina Munteanu is an ecologist and internationally published author of novels, short stories and essays. She coaches writers and teaches writing at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. For more about Nina’s coaching & workshops visit Visit for more about her writing.

1 comment:

Nina Munteanu said...


David told me that the letter did not "air" on the Post. Well, it's airing here on Alien. :)

Thanks for writing it, David!

Best Wishes,